I suppose that it was inevitable. Transwomen and Men and finding themselves with no other alternative but to go stealth to survive in the era of Trump.
As a visible figure in LGBT advocacy, I hear from many young people, more specifically, young Transwomen. I wouldn’t ever suggest I be their first line of outreach because I can barely talk to my cats without somehow pissing them off to the point where they turn their rear end to me in a dismissive gesture, but it is the reality. Perhaps, it is because there are not many accessible Transwomen who aren’t celebrities, often too busy attending red carpet events and doing Vanity Fair cover shoots to answer the young Transgirl in Topeka, Kansas who is afraid for her life. To be fair, I’m sure they do get inundated with these messages, but they’re lost in the tsunami of dick pics, marriage proposals and ignorant, bored basement dwellers threatening them with hell or calling them mentally ill. Do you really blame them for not checking that dreaded “Other” folder on Facebook? Many have messaging disabled altogether, and although they post pictures of themselves the latest Fashion Week event, they never read the comments. I don’t blame them. Our community icons like Janet Mock, Lavern Cox and others have become figureheads… idealist representations of successfully functioning Transpeople, like superheroes in comic books. They’re there to deliver a motivating speech or an uplifting hallmark comment next to their selfie, but they’re not there. They’re not real. They don’t exist down here with the rest of us.
As a person who has attracted a significant amount of attention on YouTube, the comments became increasingly hostile in a post-Trump presidency. Oh, sure, there were the ones that made fun of my inflections of voice, my hair, pondering my gender in crude fashions. Some were violent and proudly racist. Here’s a sample;
I’m pretty impervious to hateful, anonymous comments online. As a Transwoman, I’ve developed a thick skin and it takes a lot to shake me from my foundation much less fetch any response. However, I have to acknowledge that this mentality isn’t necessarily sequestered online. The venom spewed by an increasingly emboldened society whose bigotry has been stoked by President Trump is more present and visible than ever.
This stands especially true for LGBT Americans. Sadly, it’s been reported that incidences of hate-motivated acts of violence toward LGBT people have increased at an alarming rate since Trump took office. These people feel validated by his openly expressed intolerance for the LGBT community- the redaction of protections for Trans students; The effort to ban Trans* identifying Men and Women from the Military; The Religious Liberty Bill that allows doctors and nurses to refuse healthcare to an LGBT patient in medical peril. The attacks keep coming every day- against women, ethnic minorities, immigrants, but none have had the target drawn so aggressively on their back as Transgender Americans… and it goes well beyond the infamous bathroom bill that was eventually thrown out of court as activists fought it on the grounds of discrimination.
It is clear, America is not safe for Transgender people anymore. 2016 was a record breaking year for the murders of Transwomen, one of them right in my hometown. We didn’t even make it through the first month of 2018 without another murder of a Transwoman. People love to minimize this by comparing it to other demographics where homicides take place… they say “This many cops died last year,” or “This may white people were murdered last year.” Here’s the difference that many cannot reconcile; their comprehension is obstructed by their privilege; White people are not killed for being white. Cops aren’t killed for being cops. Yes, by comparison it seems there are hundreds of thousands of murders every single day, but none of them deliberately target a specific community, a specific minority whom are usually savagely killed solely based on who they are. Burned to death. Dismembered. That’s the difference. That’s why we count their losses, because these women weren’t just in the wrong place at the wrong time, or the victim of a random burglary or a drug deal gone wrong.
They were killed exclusively for being Transgender.
As a result, often the media publicly misgenders them. Then it becomes a distraction. Thankfully, LGBT journalists come forward and pick up the torch, shedding a much needed light into the darkness where that person existed so we can say their name. Usually, their families retreat in embarrassment, and it’s left to strangers to organize and honor their memory and mourn the loss of a fellow human being.
The young women who write to me express a multitude of emotions. Fear, being the most common one. They also express increasing episodes of panic attacks in social situations. Elevated anxiety when having to interface with others or risk having their gender status exposed. Others are experiencing a crippling depression as they sit and wait for the next missile to be fired over the bow of the Presidential twitter. They know it will effect their life in some form. The message it sends to his legions of followers makes their hate and prejudices expressed toward Transwomen seem justified and even sanctioned by the government. They feel vulnerable. They want to hide.
They’re starting to just that. As these attacks increase, more and more young Transpeople are dressing more discreetly, opting not to accidentally solicit any unwanted attention. Some Transwomen I know have began to dress more androgynous than distinctively feminine, despite the psychological dysphoric toll it takes requiring them to regress and pretend again. One young lady told me that she has asked friends to call her by her male name in public now as she doesn’t feel confident enough in her ability to pass as female in public environments. She is afraid it will cause conflict and she doesn’t want to have to defend her right to live in her truth- a truth that has become more challenged every day.
Going back into the closet was a symptom of Trump’s presidency that, I admit, I didn’t see coming. I have found it to be utterly heartbreaking. As I speak to young women, I consider it both my honor and my obligation to encourage them, inspire them, and help them grasp the fact that their potential in life is not limited by their Trans identity- because it is not the sum of their person. It is not the whole of their definition. But, I’d be negligent if I turned a blind eye and pretended that the fact these girls are Trans in 2018 does not place them in a position where they are susceptible to mental, emotional and physical distress. From their perspective, going back into the closet for their own safety seems rational. They have justifiably concluded that they are in danger. That fear they experience is demonstrably legitimate.
It has made it very difficult for me to tell them otherwise. The greatest, most impassioned part of me want to infuse them with positivity and optimism; show them they can achieve the acceptance they have desired, but lacked throughout their school years, from family, from peers and in workplaces. I want to teach them to witness their own beauty; to dismiss the self sabotaging, false construct of passibility, and demonstrate to them that the campaign we had all enthusiastically jumped behind and shared en mass on social media was true; It Gets Better.
But, it hasn’t. Not for Transwomen, and pared down further, for Transwomen of color, it’s getting progressively worse. How do I take this extraordinary league of boundary breakers, gender revolutionaries, world-shapers and evolutionary progressives destined to make tomorrow a better place and show them that, together, we can achieve greatness. We can make it better, and we can do it despite the hurdles we must leap and obstacles we must climb. We can do it in spite of the Donald Trumps and Mike Pences and Pulpit preachers and Nazi rallies and terrifying headlines blaring the next Trans murder that shakes them to their core and renders them frozen, silent and in retreat.
What are the right words? There is no blueprint for survival during these tumultuous times where it seems like we’re alone, together. I’ve given up trying to lull anyone into a state of false security. These girls aren’t blind. They see clearly the reality unfurling before them like something out of some dystopian nightmare. I understand, with a heaviness in my chest that no words can do justice, the need to disguise in order to survive; To slip back into the shadows of obscurity where they’re just like everyone else. I’m watching young Transwomen disappear, one by one, as they conform, once again, into forced gender roles they worked so bravely and at such tremendous sacrifice to shed the burden of.
After struggling with this for months, hearing story after story of girls “De-transitioning” and going back into the closet, I have deduced that my only option to keep the lines open is to lead by example; To listen, respect, understand their choice and the gravity of it, but stand as a testament to the ability to thrive in the face of opposition; to raise a middle finger to anyone who thinks they can put me into a box in which I don’t belong. I am what I am. I’m here to stay.
I said this on Instagram yesterday, and it bares repeating now: I am an alien. I’m not here to make you comfortable. I am here to disrupt your concepts of tradition and normalcy. I am here to evolve thought….
I am here to change the world. Not for the world to change me.